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Posted: Wednesday, 02 October 2013 7:19PM

5 things to watch in Bills - Browns



(WGR 550) -- When the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns hit the field on Thursday night, one of the two will likely leave the contest as one of the surprising teams of the league that have a winning record through five weeks.

The Bills enter the game coming off a surprising win over the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, and the Browns are winners of their last two games. Now both franchises that sit on the shores of Lake Erie have matching 2-2 records, and they both have optimistic undertones considering their upcoming opponent.

How might both approach their only primetime game of the season? Here are some story lines to keep an eye on as the game goes along.

1) Run crazy Bills vs. run stuffing Browns
- There's little doubt that the Bills prefer to let their run game set the tone for all their games on offense. They have a rookie quarterback, and normally a pair of running backs that give them versatility and allow each other to stay fresh. Through four games, the Bills are averaging 152 yards on the ground per game, which is second in the NFL. Cleveland comes into the game as one of the most potent run-stuffing defenses through the first quarter of the season. They've allowed only 79 yards per game on the ground, which is the 4th best average around the league. Taking it even a step farther, the Browns are allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. Unfortunately for one of the two teams, something must give on Thursday night. No matter who ends up suiting up for Buffalo, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and/or Tashard Choice will have their work cut out for them against one of the up and coming nose tackles in the league, Phil Taylor. He's joined be free agent acquisition Desmond Bryant and the long-time starter Ahtyba Rubin. Those three set the tone week in and out for the Browns.

2) New quarterbacks giving new life
- It was to be expected in western New York with the drafting of quarterback EJ Manuel, but Brian Hoyer has taken Cleveland by surprise over the past two weeks. Acquired in the off-season, Hoyer has opened up the offense for the Browns in ways that Brandon Weeden didn't through the first two games. Hoyer has thrown for five touchdowns, but could be considered the benefactor of quality timing. Wide receiver Josh Gordon's suspension ended just as Weeden injured his thumb. Whatever the case may be, Hoyer's play, including his turnover-free game against Cincinnati last weekend, has the players inside the Browns locker room believing.

3) Jordan Cameron on an absolute tear
- Through four games in 2013, Cameron has already more than doubled his career catch total and has five touchdowns. He's yet another ex-basketball player turned football tight end success story in the NFL, showing the athleticism and catching ability that teams covet. Both Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer have targeted Cameron early and often, without many defensive players possessing the size and ability to keep with the tight end. For the Bills, potentially not having Aaron Williams at safety could certainly hurt their ability to cover Cameron. If Leodis McKelvin can't play, Williams shifts back to cornerback once again and takes away a viable coverage option for the tight end. That could leave Cameron with Da'Norris Searcy in coverage, who has had his struggles despite a strong Week 4 showing.

4) Who will Joe Haden lock down?
- The Browns have a strong front-seven on defense, and they also have one of the best young cornerbacks in the league. Former top 10 pick Joe Haden will follow one of the Bills' top two wideouts around, wherever they go on the field. With the type of game that Robert Woods had against Baltimore, the Browns may choose to put Haden on the rookie to try and take him away, then allow Buster Skrine to deal with Stevie Johnson. Whoever Skrine ends up covering, there's an opportunity for the Bills to exploit him because both their wideouts have had a quality start to their season.

5) Shortened week may lead to lighter lineups
- Injuries are always a part of the game when you get deeper into the season. On a shortened week though, it makes the recovery from injuries from the previous game that much more daunting. Had the Bills and Browns had the whole week to get ready from an injury perspective, perhaps running back C.J. Spiller or cornerback Leodis McKelvin wouldn't have the uncertainty that they do heading into the game. But since it's on Thursday, both are game-time decisions and could significantly impact the lineups.

Injuries
Buffalo
OUT: CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist), WR Marquise Goodwin (hand), CB Ron Brooks (foot), K Dustin Hopkins (groing)
QUESTIONABLE: HB C.J. Spiller (ankle), CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring, S Jairus Byrd (feet)
PROBABLE: DL Kyle Williams (Achilles) HB Fred Jackson (knee), WR Stevie Johnson (hamstring), G Kraig Urbik (knee), DE Mario WIlliams (ankle), S Aaron Williams (back)

Cleveland
OUT: DE Billy Winn (quadricep)
DOUBTFUL: OLB Quentin Groves (knee), OLB Jabaal Sheard (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: DE John Hughes (knee), G Shawn Lauvao (ankle)
PROBABLE: G Oniel Cousins (chest), HB Chris Ogbonnaya (thigh), QB Brandon Weeden (thumb), K Billy Cundiff (thigh)

Prediction: Browns over Bills
- This game is a coin-flip. The two players for the Bills that are game-time decisions (Spiller and McKelvin) are of utmost importance to the outcome of the game. Spiller, if healthy enough, has the ability to work well and find space that even the best of run defenses don't think they're giving up. Even if he's not busting huge runs, he's still ten times the option that Tashard Choice is for game planning reasons. In McKelvin's case, if he plays that would allow the Bills to use Aaron Williams to shadow Jordan Cameron when they're in man-to-man looks. If McKelvin doesn't, Cameron could have a big game against the likes of Da'Norris Searcy. The weather could also play into the equation, as forecasters are calling for thunderstorms. It will be a close game throughout.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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